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The Greek Myth of Perseus and Andromeda

Sarah has a PhD in classical civilisation from Swansea University. She continues to write on the ancient world and other topics.

Atlas Turned to Stone by Edward Burne-Jones

Atlas Turned to Stone by Edward Burne-Jones

The Story So Far...

Perseus and Atlas

Having fled from the pursuing Gorgon sisters, after killing their snaky-haired sister, Medusa, Perseus found himself at the home of Atlas, the giant Titan who bore the weight of the heavens on his shoulders. The giant treated Perseus discourteously, refusing to let him pass. Unable to defeat him by other means, Perseus, turning his face away, held up the Gorgon’s head and turned Atlas to stone, so that some say that the Atlas Mountains are the remains of his great body.

Andromeda and the Sea Monster Ceto

Flying along on his winged sandals, Perseus came to the North African coastline; when he reached the kingdom of Ethiopia, he found a beautiful young woman chained naked to a rock, sticking out from the sea. A terrifying sea monster was even now swimming towards her.

Alighting on the rock, Perseus asked the young woman who she was and how she came to find herself in this peril. Embarrassed by her exposure but not wishing Perseus to think she had been left chained in this way as a punishment for some shameful deed, the girl told him the whole story.

She told him her name was Andromeda and that she was the daughter of King Cepheus and Queen Cassiopeia. Queen Cassiopeia, was so proud of her beauty and that of her daughter that she rashly boasted that they were both more beautiful than the Nereides, the nymphs of the sea. The Nereides were predictably offended by this and to avenge their wounded pride, Poseidon, God of the Sea, ravaged the coasts with a flood tide and the depredations of a primordial sea monster, Ceto.

When the Oracle of the God Ammon revealed the cause of these troubles, the populace insisted that Andromeda be offered to the monster to appease the wrath of the Nereides and Poseidon.

Perseus and Andromeda: Greek Amphora

Perseus and Andromeda: Greek Amphora

Smitten with the beautiful young woman, Perseus spoke to her parents who were lamenting on the shore and asked for Andromeda’s hand in marriage if he should be successful in saving her from the sea monster. Under the circumstances, her parents could scarcely refuse.

Taking full advantage of the winged sandals leant to him by Hermes, Perseus unleashed an airborne attack upon Ceto, striking the monster’s back and ribs with his sword, while the creature reared and dived, uttering terrifying cries in her agony. Finally, bracing himself on a rock, as his winged sandals had become sodden with the monster’s blood, Perseus succeeded in stabbing her through the belly, at which Ceto expired.

At once, Andromeda was freed from her chains and stepped on to the shore to be reunited with her family. Perseus meanwhile rinsed his bloody hands in the water and rested.

Carefully, Perseus placed the Medusa’s head face down on the beach to prevent anyone being turned to stone by looking on her face. Some of the seaweed lying on the beach however became petrified with the contact, and this is said to be the origin of the coral that is found in the area.

With great rejoicing, Perseus, Andromeda and her parents returned to the palace where they prepared to celebrate a joyous wedding feast.

Perseus and Andromeda: Pompeian fresco from the House of the Dioscuri, now in the Museum of Naples.

Perseus and Andromeda: Pompeian fresco from the House of the Dioscuri, now in the Museum of Naples.

Fight at the Wedding Feast and the Revenge of Phineas

Within the palace, there was great feasting, rejoicing and celebration, both for the rescue of Princess Andromeda and for her marriage to her gallant rescuer. Not everyone was happy however.

Phineus, brother to King Cepheus had previously been betrothed to his niece Andromeda. When he heard that she had been saved from the sea monster but that he had now been passed over for the young stranger who had rescued her, he felt angry and betrayed.

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Late in the evening, when all the revellers were drinking and enjoying themselves, Phineus and his supporters broke in and began attacking Perseus and those friendly to him. A terrible fight broke out, celebrations turning to screams and bloodshed. When Perseus realised he was hopelessly outnumbered by his enemies, he had one weapon left that could save him. Calling to his friends to look away, he took the Medusa’s head from its bag and turned Phineas and his supporters all into stone.

Perseus Turning Phineus and his Followers into Stone: Luca Giordano, early 1680s.

Perseus Turning Phineus and his Followers into Stone: Luca Giordano, early 1680s.

The Return of Perseus: The Oracle is Fulfilled

Following his rather fraught wedding, Perseus decided to return with his bride back to Greece. Arriving at the Island of Seriphos, where he had been brought up, he found that his mother Danae and Dictys the kindly fisherman who had rescued them both from the floating chest were in desperate straits, having taken refuge in a temple to escape King Polydectes who was determined to marry Danae against her will. Perseus rescued his mother and Dictys, turning Polydectes and a great many of the people of Seriphos to stone in the process. He left Dictys as king of the island.

Akrisios, the King of Argos, had originally set his grandson, the baby Perseus adrift in a chest with Danae because he’d heard an oracle that the boy would grow up to kill him. When he learned then that Perseus was returning to Greece in triumph, he fled from Argos to Larisa. Perseus, however, turned up there for the funeral of the father of King Teutamedes which included athletic contests held in honour of the deceased. Perseus competed in the throwing of the discus, but by chance, the discus was blown out of its trajectory by the wind and struck Akrisios as he sat in the audience, dealing him a mortal wound. Thus the oracle came to pass, despite all Akrisios’ efforts to avoid it.

Perseus was mortified when he realised that he had killed his grandfather. Fearing that it would seem as though he had done it on purpose, in order to inherit the throne of Argos, Perseus persuaded Megaphenthes, King of the city of Tiryns to swap kingdoms with him. He ruled Tiryns along with Mideia and the important ancient centre of Mycenae.

Herakles, the greatest of the Greek heroes, was descended from Perseus.


SarahLMaguire (author) from UK on June 18, 2013:

Thanks so much for your kind comment, Mel. I'm glad you enjoyed this hub. Greek myth is indeed full of grim and fascinating twists, especially when dealing with people trying to cheat Fate!

SarahLMaguire (author) from UK on June 18, 2013:

Thanks for your interesting comment, Lonestar!

There are many fascinating ways we can seek to interpret Greek myths and learn from them both about the ancients and ourselves.

Seeing the swallowing of Metis as a metaphor for the drowning of Atlantis is an ingenious idea and one I've never come across before.

Mel Jay from Australia on June 18, 2013:

Thanks for this well written, interesting hub. I really enjoyed the story. I love how Greek myths are so convoluted and full of death and superstition (which usually proves to be correct!). Guess you can't escape destiny...thumbs up from me.

Rod Martin Jr from Cebu, Philippines on June 18, 2013:

I love ancient myth. I suspect that there is some smidgen of truth behind the wild tales.

Take, for instance, the story of Athena and Metis, her mother. Metis was said to have been the wisest individual of all time, but was swallowed whole by Zeus to prevent the birth of a son and daughter who would one day overthrow him as king of the gods. Later, Athena was born, full grown from the head of her father. She was fully armed and wore armor.

It now seems that the myth of Atlantis had been known in Greece far longer than even Plato knew. You see, Atlantis had been the wisest nation of all times (most advanced) and it was swallowed whole by the sea, before its children could overthrow the gods and conquer the world. The matriarchal refugees fled the "head" (capital) city, fully mature as a civilization and armed to protect themselves.

And now we have scientific evidence of an Atlantis-like event right when Plato's lost island empire was supposed to have subsided -- 9600 BC.

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